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Published: Thursday, 10/3/2002

County ambulance service at issue in Monroe County

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Bedford fire officials are making plans to start using advanced life support-equipped ambulances by next year in case problems arise between Monroe County and its regular ambulance provider.

Meanwhile, county commissioners are seeking greater control over the method by which American Medical Response dispatches its ambulances in an effort to cut down long waits for service.

"With what's been going on in the county, I just want to make sure that we, down in Bedford, are taken care of," Bedford Township Fire Chief John Bofia said.

At issue is the level of ambulance service provided across Monroe County and whether patient care and safety could be improved by replacing the current privately run ambulances with one owned by county taxpayers. And the question has some county leaders looking for direct input from the public.

"It boils down to the question of, 'Are we going to have the public sector do this or have the private sector do this?' We need input from the public on this to find out if the public is willing to support a publicly run ambulance system," said county commissioner David Scott, chairman of the county board's Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Public Safety committee.

Monroe County is in the first year of a three-year contract with American Medical Response, which operates four ambulances running Advanced Life Support crews. The company, which is dispatched from Pontiac, Mich., also operates a fifth ambulance that focuses primarily on what are called "facility transports," or shuttling patients between hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities.

While AMR has been the county's primary ambulance provider for several years, fire departments across the county have complained about its slow response to emergency calls.

Chief Bofia, who is also chairman of the Monroe County Ambulance Authority, said the main reason response times are slow is that AMR often has as many as four of its vehicles tied up doing non-emergency, and very lucrative, facility transports.

County officials are also seeking to have AMR's ambulances report their status directly to the county's Central Dispatch Center so that they could be sent directly to where they are needed, instead of having to go through the company's dispatching center in Pontiac.

In Bedford, Chief Bofia said he and his staff have developed a plan that would allow department personnel to begin transporting patients to Toledo-area hospitals on a more regular basis, pulling out of the county ambulance authority as the city of Monroe did two years ago.

The township's plan has some inherent costs, however, and would be such a radical departure from the department's current operating plans that the chief said he will leave the decision to the lawmakers.

"We're going to present the plan to the township board [on Oct. 15]. And then we're going to leave it up to the board," Chief Bofia said. "If they want us to move forward with it, we will, and if they want us to shelve it, we will do that too."

Mr. Scott said he and other county commissioners are considering a countywide survey to determine if there is adequate support for a publicly owned ambulance system. If Bedford Township and/or Frenchtown Township follows the city of Monroe in operating its own ambulances, communities like Maybee, Dundee, and Ottawa Lake are going to suffer, Mr. Scott said.

"We're going to have to look out for the welfare of the smaller communities," Mr. Scott said. He said the equipment necessary for a publicly owned system may already be available if a system can be worked out to fund and operate it.

"There are already seven ambulances in Monroe County, other than AMR's five, that can transport," Mr. Scott said. "There are a number of things that need to be worked out, but in the end, we are going to do what's best for the county of Monroe."



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